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Snail Mail: Harpers Ferry–Halfway Baby!

Finally out of Virginia!

Our official 1000 mile mark! Feels Awesome!

So Harpers Ferry is technically 90 miles short of the 1/2 way point, however all hikers consider this town the psychological 1/2 way point. Sadly a large percentage of thru-hikers don’t make it any farther then Harpers Ferry.

While at Bears Den, I was somehow convinced that going to D.C. for a few days would be a great way to celebrate making it 1/2 way. It ended up working out pretty great as I was already planning to meet with Breezy, my old roommate from my college years. She is currently living in D.C. with her fiance and the plan was originally to come to Harpers Ferry to have some dinner with me.

Instead they graciously picked up 3 hikers, myself included, and gave us a lift into the city. We stopped for some food on the way, a happy hour special in this weird basement restaurant, then moved on to an Irish Pub, which was definitely more our style. We “stinky” hikers were able to clean up and shower in Harpers Ferry before Breezy and David picked us up. Unfortunately our gear tends to constantly emit some dirty hiker smells and when we all got back in the car, the smell from the trunk had wafted into the interior. I only pray that the smell did not last long. I feel I may owe Breezy a bottle of Febreeze! (Maybe 2!)

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June 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snail Mail: The Rollercoaster! and Bears Den Hostel!

There is a 14 mile section of trail in Virginia that is nicknamed “The Rollercoaster”. I’m sure all you smart people can guess why. It’s literally packed with ups and downs, one right after the other. To make it even more interesting, it was down pouring the day I started out for my exciting ride.

Avatar, Ratbucket and I actually hiked a couple of hours at the start playing a word/memory game to help pass the time. And it worked until Ratbucket got us off the trail somehow and we were bushwhacking through dense bushes getting more soaked in the process. So that pretty much killed the game and I continued the Rollercoaster on my own until I reached the shelter. From this shelter we all planned on going another 10 miles to our stop for the night, However, in just 3 miles, there was a hostel right off the trail…oh what to do. Temptations!

Avatar and I were the 1st to get to the Bears Den side trail. We both debated wanting to push on, but also wanting to stop in. We decided to go and “check it out” and at least grab a soda.

Sign speaks for itself

A little bit about Bears Den Hostel: Nestled within the Blueridge Mountains and on the Appalachian Trail, lies historical Bears Den Lodge. Once a summer home for Washington physician Huron Lawson and his wife, opera singer, Francesca Kaspar, Bears Den is an enchanting stone lodge reminiscent of a European castle, complete with turrets and tower. Built in 1933 by local stonemasons, the distinguished mansion is one of the most impressive hostels on the eastern region. Once used as Francesca’s recital hall, the large common room boasts excellent acoustics and a magnificent stone fireplace. Among the forested acreage are several lawns and quiet escapes. A main attraction and only a short stroll down the trail, Bears Den Scenic Rock Overlook offers a stunning view of the Shenandoah Valley.

Once I stepped inside and put my pack down…I knew I was in trouble (as in not hiking further). First off, it was dry and warm. Secondly, it was a really nice and comfy set-up. It sort of had the college dorm room feeling. The thing that sold us was the hiker special: bunk, shower, laundry, pizza, soda, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for $27. You really can’t beat that deal. So we stayed. And it was glorious! Not only did the pizza/ice cream make it into my tummy, there was also extra pasta salad and tons of stuff in the hiker box that I needed.

Avatar and his awesome loaner PJ’s from the hiker box

There was a large bag of pancake mix for hikers to use so we also scored a ginormous breakfast the next morning.

Me making some free pancakes to jump start our morning

The only downside was that the boys made me watch some dumb Western movie, I can’t even remember the name as I was so unimpressed.

Avatar, Arizona, Ratbucket and I oustide of Bears Den Hostel.

June 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Snail Mail: The Journey with Ratbucket & Avatar begins…

Day 70, 5/12/12

After meeting up with Ratbucket and Avatar in the Shenandoah’s, we ended up “hiking together” for quite some time. Meaning I still spent my day hiking by myself, but whatever shelter/campsite/town I ended up in, they were usually there as well. One day we saw each other in town during a resupply and Ratbucket and I shared our wine hiking/bear spotting story and we could tell Avatar was jealous. All 3 of us were heading to the shelter 5 miles out of town that night, so Ratbucket and I decided to get another bottle of wine to share with Avatar since we were already at the store anyway.

Such a good use of my water filter bag…gotta keep the wine chilled.

We stayed at the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter which was one of the most luxurious shelters yet.

Jim and Molly Denton Shelter

It almost felt like a 5-star-hotel on the trail. Not only did it have a large deck with a reclining benched seat, but there was a shower! It was really just a closed in shower with a hose hanging in the middle with a spray handle. I had to keep myself in a stooped position because if I lifted the hose a certain way it would kink and no water would come out. It was also ICE cold, and I may have taken only 45 seconds to rinse off and scream like a little girl, but it was refreshingly awesome.

Another bonus to the shelter was that another thru-hiker who lived in the area and was taking time off the trail, left us some trail magic in the shelter: 1/2 a case of beer!

Awesome Trail Magic on Mother’s Day

We all enjoyed our beer with our dinner and were surprised to have the shelter to ourselves for the evening. There were a couple people tenting, but after the last week of so many people in/out of the Shenandoah’s, we basked in the peace and quiet!

The next morning we took our time leaving the shelter one by one as it was just too nice of a place! About 2 miles past the shelter I came upon a trail magic cooler that was full of sodas and beer. Seeing as it was Mother’s Day, I decided to go ahead and have a beer and try to give my mom a call! I had a nice chat with her and shortly after Ratbucket came round the corner and joined me for a beer. We chatted about lots of different things and started getting out trail mix and having a picnic when Avatar came around the corner and joined us as well.

Suddenly we were all so relaxed sitting on the bridge, that even though we had only gone 2 miles so far, we sat there even longer eventually sharing the bottle of wine that was still in my pack. We justified our decision to waste away the morning because it was a holiday. So Happy Mothers Day All!

Me, Ratbucket, and Avatar enjoying our leisurely morning on the bridge with some beer, wine, and trail mix.

June 16, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Email: Shenandoah National Park: The good, the bad, and the bears

I’ve found this is one of the most difficult blogs to write so far because my relationship with the park was an extremely intense love/hate relationship.
We will start with the Hate:
1. There was a big bubble of hikers getting back on the trail after a re-supply in a nearby town. The most sensible shelter for people to stay the night at was most definitely the busiest thru-hiker shelter I’ve ever seen. Probably close to 30 people tenting in the area and hanging at the shelter. At first it was fun seeing everyone, meeting new faces and catching up and sharing stories. But the shelter was built for 8 and there was only one picnic table and a serious feeling of claustrophobia. Which is a weird thing to feel while in the woods.

2. The amount of section hikers and day hikers were overwhelming. There were just people everywhere. Normally I enjoy chatting with all kinds of people. I think I got swayed to a negative direction when a couple of guys got up at 4am and made so much racket that none of us could sleep, making a grumpy start for a handful of thru-hikers, Sketch included.

3. The Skyline Drive runs right along/through the park. This was also annoying to me because:

a. Even though I was in the woods, every few minutes I would hear a car and know I was close to the road.

b. The trail crossed over the Skyline Drive so much if felt pointless walking on the trail.

c. The views were nice, yes, but most of them had the stupid road in it.

4. The entire trail’s grade throughout the park was so easy it felt like I was on a nature walk for toddlers. It was definitely nice at first to not climb mountains everyday. By day 3 though, I was ready for more of a challenge then a gentle uphill slope.

5. I mentioned the trail goes through parking areas/roads often, but NONE of them had trash cans available.

6. It was too early in the “season”, so over half of the things in my guidebook that were supposed to be open, were not. I got to a campground excited for a snack, it was not open and the soda machines were not turned on either.

7. Large portions of the trail had not yet been maintained for the season. I had to do a lot of bushwhacking and trees/bushes were scraping my legs.

8. It rained and was super cold for the 1st couple of days.

I feel like I’ve complained enough, so let’s move on to the Love portion:

1. I caught back up to old hiker friends “Avatar” and “Ratbucket”. It was good to see them again, and little did I know I would end up hiking with them for quite a while afterwards, those adventurous stories to come later.

2. The park has Waysides, which is a combination gas station/gift shop/food stand. A Wayside was within walking distance of the trail so I decided to spoil myself and I had not one, but TWO breakfasts that involved pancakes, bacon, eggs, an egg and cheese sandwich and for dessert a blackberry shake. After eating all of that goodness I purchased some sweets from the gift shop and headed back to the trail, thinking the Shenandoah’s weren’t that bad after all.

3. Lewis Campground was open!! Hooray! The trail passed right by so I went and checked out the camp store. The guy working was real nice and welcoming, he thru-hiked back in the 70’s. I had a spicy chicken sandwich for lunch and was going to have a soda with it, but the beer was cheaper, and I’m on a budget…so I had a beer, and it was delicious. The store also gave me a chance to charge my phone/ipod/camera and clean up a bit. There were coin-operated showers but I was content with smelling. I also loaded up on more snacks, there was a “Little Debbie” party going on in my pack.

4. I met a former thru-hiker “Grey Ghost” and his wife at one of the parking lots and they invited me over for some cheese/meat/crackers trail magic. Grey Ghost spilled crackers all over the van floor and I had to remind him that I was a hiker and would eat crackers off the ground, so I didn’t mind.

5. One morning I walked by the stables area and saw a soda machine and thought it would be nice to have a Dr. Pepper with my breakfast. Unfortunately I was 25 cents short and was very saddened until I found a quarter in the grass as I was walking away, it was fate.

6. Wine. Never knew it could be so enjoyable while hiking. But it is. I was enjoying a triple-decker grilled cheese sandwich and a beer at the last Wayside in the park when Ratbucket joined me. We were both heading to a shelter 6 miles away so we decided to take it easy and enjoy a bottle of wine on the walk there. Ratbucket bought a bottle of blueberry wine and after our initial couple of sips decided that one bottle might not be enough. Therefore I bought a backup bottle of raspberry wine, for when we got to the shelter. It didn’t make it to the shelter. We drank both bottles of wine and split a can of beer that I had forgotten I had stashed in my pack earlier. We played mind games, trivia games and eventually got to sharing embarrassing stories of our youth. It was a hilarious 6 -mile journey that also brought me to my first encounter with BEARS!! We were walking along when we saw 2 bear cubs in the woods starting to scramble away. They stopped and turned around and watched us so we got a nice good look at them before moving on. A few minutes later a little further down the hill we ran into mama bear. She was just chilling 20 feet or so off the trail and we just stopped and looked at her. Minutes passed before we realized we were standing between mama bear and her cubs, which is not a great place to be standing, so we moved a little further down the trail. I was so ecstatic about my first bear sightings, that it made me hate the Shenandoah’s a little less, only a little.

And that is my eventful week of one of the most famous National Parks.

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June 16, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Email: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Day hikers, weekenders, oh my!!

Days of the week get a little mixed up when hiking because eventually all the days just blend together. Weekends however are a different story. It’s easy to tell when it’s a weekend because you start to see so many more people on the trail. This can sometimes be a nuisance as some people are just plain annoying. But for the most part it’s a good thing! In the last few days I’ve seen so many people who have been super nice and encouraging with my thru-hike.

Here’s the rundown:

1. I came down a mountain one morning to a parking area and was looking for the water source and asked 2 gentlemen if they knew where it was. They didn’t, but instead handed me some bottled water and M&M’s for breakfast!

2. Not 5 minutes later, a hunter drove by me, stopped, reversed, and gave me everything he had left in his lunch cooler which included a bunch of peanut butter crackers and a root beer.

3. Group of “at-risk” girls on a camping trip asked me to join them for dinner. I declined as I had already eaten, but still nice to be asked. I chatted with them for quite a while since my job in North Carolina was very similar to the school that they were from.

4. Lori and Stayson, a section-hiker couple, stayed at the same shelter as me and gave me a cliff bar for breakfast and some new batteries for my dead headlamp.

5. A Boy Scout group at the roadside gave me a lift to the campground I needed to get to in order to re-supply.

6. Owners of the campground gave me free shower/soaps/laundry/toilet paper and a ride back to the trail.

7. An older gentleman saw me get dropped off and went back to his car to give me a couple of oranges.

All of this was in the span of 48 hours. Weekends are good days for us thru-hikers to connect with other people on the trail and sometimes get a little trail magic to brighten our day!

June 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snail Mail: Four Pines Hostel!

Four Pines Hostel is situated on a farm and is a large 3-bay garage that was turned into a hiker hostel. There were couches, lawn chairs, cots and even a bed for hikers to claim as well as a hot shower and simple cooking facilities. When I arrived it was still before noon and I thought I was just “waiting out the storm”. I was not expecting to see the familiar faces of “Falling Turtle” and “Irish”.

Apparently Falling Turtle did some actual falling down Dragons tooth so she was stuck with a sprained ankle for a few days. I was there for about 10 minutes getting nice and toasty warm by the pot-belly stove when Irish handed me a beer…and I knew my hiking for the day was finished. Another hiker, “Sonny”, and I started a round of serious darts with Irish and before we knew it we were ordering pizza and going on a beer run. The owner of the hostel, Joe, was really generous in shuttling hikers to the store and to the well-known restaurant in town called “The Homeplace”.

Eventually the hostel filled up and Joe drove the majority to The Homeplace for dinner. When he came back he brought over the fixins for deer burgers and hotdogs and he hung out with all of us and drank some beers. He also ended up cutting “Guacs” dreadlocks for him. It was quite the transformation as Guac said he’s had them for more then 8 years! All-in-all it was a great stop on the trail and got me out of the icky weather for a day!

In the morning I woke to find the sun shining and the sky clear! Good news since some of the most popular views were on the trail today: McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs! When I got up to McAfee Knob I ran into “Uno” again. “Beast” later joined us and shared some grapes with us. We spent 1 hour there enjoying the scenery and did the same at Tinker Cliffs. We were really wanting to get into Daleville to resupply early in the morning, so Uno and I decided to camp a few miles from town so it would be an easy walk in. After doing a 20 mile day, we found a spot with a semi-decent view if we climbed the rocks. To save time in the morning we decided to “cowboy camp”, meaning we would be sleeping under the stars with hopes that it doesn’t rain. This was the 1st time on the trail I did this and it was mostly a success. One thing I did not enjoy was waking to find a slimy bug crawling across my face! UGH!

We only had 1 thing on our minds when walking to Daleville in the morning: coffee! There was a fantastic coffee shop conveniently located right next to the Outfitters and Kroger Store! Everything I needed was right there! I was even able to score “new” pants and shorts and a book from Goodwill! Sadly my town day was a quick stop and I hurried back to the trail with a bag FULL of food! Never go shopping when you’re hungry-I failed to follow my own rule and my shoulders/back will be paying for it this week! My bag has never been more heavy then what it was leaving Daleville. I have a serious problem…I think my food bag will be the death of me!

It was a “quick” 5 miles to the next shelter out of Daleville where I got to finally meet both puppies! They are so cute! Joe keeps telling me not to get any ideas about finding strays on the trail. But hey, if I find a stray monkey, I WILL be keeping it! Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?! I have!

I will shortly be arriving to the Shenandoahs. The last few days have been in the 80’s-90’s. I feel like I’ve sweated my face off continuously the past 48 hours. The only reprieve was when I camped at a river/swimming hole last night. When I arrived, I jumped right in. And after catching my breath from the shock of cold water, I swam for 30 seconds before fleeing to the shore for warmth! Best 30 seconds ever!

P.S. I’m officially more then 1/3 done with the AT!

-Sketch

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June 5, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment